Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sister X's Letter on the Vatican Visitation- The Final Installment

Here is the final installment of Sister X's letter. Once again my commentary will be in pink. The letter was so long I had to start recycling Sadie Frowns!

"Since Rome wants to know about the quality of my life as a religious sister, let me tell you about a common form of liturgical life in my community. At our cemetery we recently observed the gravesite rite for a deceased sister. No priest was there." Was a priest asked to be there? "One sister led the prayer, and another sprinkled holy water, while the rest of us made the responses. Few of sister’s family members—nieces and nephews living many states away—were able to attend. In the end, we sisters are in effect the family, enacting one of the rights—called “suffrages after death”—that women religious have as a result of taking vows. Taking end-of-life responsibility for one another means a Catholic funeral, burial with your community members, and the prayers and remembrances of those with whom you “persevered unto death.”"

"Earlier that day we had been lucky to find a kindly but frail eighty-plus priest to say the funeral Mass at the motherhouse. Priests’ numbers have dropped, even in a metropolitan area like ours, and it’s all “retired” priests can do to manage multiple Masses and pastoral services at some local parish." We'll save the fact that it's becoming more and more apparent that the decrease in vocations seems to be directly related to the loss of orthodoxy in many orders and parishes across the country for another day. This seems more apparent now that we're seeing an increase in vocations in groups with strict, traditional rules of life. But that is another (hopefully shorter) post. "Consequently, women religious aren’t at all assured of having daily Eucharist—the practice that grounded their spirituality for most of their lives as religious and one that is fundamental to their congregational constitutions. (Cardinal Rodé and his consultors would do well to ponder the relationship between Vatican policy and the “quality of life” of women religious: the refusal to ordain women has created a shortage of priests, and the quality of nuns’ spiritual and sacramental life has suffered accordingly.)" There are quite a few things that would make Catholicism more "popular" in the eyes of the secular world. However, the Church does not bend it's knee to secular norms in order to win popularity contests. It does what is right and preserves the truth for generations to come.

"Fortunately, despite the crisis in priesthood, there were men present to serve us in conducting our sister’s last rituals on earth. I’m referring to the unionized cemetery crew. Until “the job moment,” they awkwardly stood at the edge of our prayer circle. One in muddy Levis discreetly chewed gum. Another had a plastic water bottle jammed into a back pocket of his raggedy khakis. Not exactly vestments. Finally the “job moment” had come. Balancing on their grass-stained, thick-soled sneakers, the four men carefully coordinated the sets of tightly woven, three-inch-wide straps around the coffin. Two quickly pulled away the steel beams holding the coffin above the open grave. The coffin’s weight shifted to the straps, and letting out the strap length evenly, fist over wrist, they skillfully lowered the coffin till it touched bottom."

"Like other nuns, our deceased sister had put in many years of six-and-a-half-day work weeks, with lots of walking in the days before we drove cars. She had been a hospital nun, which meant that after her own shift ended, she would fill in on the floor for nurses who were sick. I recalled her at our dinner table. In her retirement years she had been careful about her diet, obsessively cutting off all fat from her meat. Nuns are self-effacing," except when they're putting their own personal opinion above the teaching authority of the Church. "and you never know all they did until you read their obituaries; but at the motherhouse you could always tell which had been hospital nuns. They were the fastest eaters at any table—a speed developed over years of eating in hospital dining rooms. You didn’t linger when you had other nurses to supervise and patients to tend." We can't deny that many Nuns and orders have sacrificed and done a great deal of good. All the more reason for the Vatican to want to guide them back towards the fullness of truth that is found in the Church and away from the radical feminist ideas that they have lifted up as a new sort of religion.

"The cemetery crew didn’t have to strain, since in her last illness our sister’s body, always thin to begin with, had become weightless, like a ballet dancer’s. We threw flowers down into the grave. Mine slipped into the narrow space between the coffin and the wall of earth. By her side, I thought."

"Two hours earlier, standing at the open coffin before Mass, I’d read the signatures on her vow document, placing my hand on hers and silently thanking her for her life. Then two sisters had closed the coffin for the last time. Now, at the end of the litany, we invoked other sisters who had died, asking their help. “Pray for us,” we murmured. This is the time to recall your friends: deceased sisters who mentored you; the one who offered you a shoulder to cry on or used her influence to help you; all those who gave you the example of persevering unto death through their own lives."

"We sisters are buried with the paper we signed at final profession of vows, an event attested to by the superior and her vicar. The signatures on this sister’s vows belonged to women elected as leaders a half-century before. I knew who they were. Their headstones could be found in the long line of graves that stretched out before us, rows and rows of nuns’ graves, going back more than a century. I thought about cemeteries like this all over the United States, and the many thousands of nuns who faithfully served the church for a lifetime, building up its schools and hospitals. They kept their vows. They didn’t cost the church $2 billion in legal settlements." The old fall back for attacking what she so clearly "loves." "Their gravestones don’t memorialize ecclesial appointments, ministerial accomplishments, educational degrees, or elected congregational positions. For religious women, the headstone notes date of birth, religious name, date of profession of vows, and date of death. The facts of lifelong fidelity are simple and few."

"Some years ago, with prudent foresight, my community bought up plots—enough of them to guarantee a place for me and for those likely to enter the community in the future. Mine is up the line a way. How far up is not under my control, though if I stay in good health and die of natural causes, it’s probably a good way up. But here is the general area where you can expect to find me, long after the Vatican’s visitation and investigation are over. The prospect of death and life in their full reach puts things in a frank perspective, and I end with the same question with which I began this essay: Is the Vatican visitation truly being done out of concern for American nuns? Here in the cemetery, I couldn’t help but think that the question Rome is really asking is, “Why don’t you have more nuns to bury? Why aren’t there more of you?”" The actual question is "why are you spreading dissent and undermining the teachings of the institute that you claim to love?"

"Do they really wonder why our numbers shrink and shrink? They might ponder their own actions." And Sister X might realize that when she points her finger at the Vatican three (appropriately) point back in her direction. "The visitation and investigation continue; the doctrinal assessment will ferret out our patches of heterodoxy." Patches? They must be incredibly vocal patches. "Standing at our late sister’s grave I remembered, as if it were yesterday, a question she innocently asked me years ago in a group meeting. “Do we have rights?” she wondered. “What are they?”"

"Those were good questions then, and American sisters should ask them now. Meanwhile, as I glance up the line of graves, I wonder how many sisters will be here when the day comes to toss flowers on my coffin."

And that is Sister X's article on the Vatican Visitation.

I guess I devoted so much time and space to this subject because I'm tired of the incessant whine of people who are supposedly "devoted to the Church" who can't stand the Church's actual teachings. Many would truly remake the Church in their own image. Have we become such a secular, self obsessed culture that we believe that we know better than the Church that God left on Earth to guide us?

And, after several pages, that is all that I have to say on the subject (for now!)!

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